The New Housekeeper
Titus only heard brief snatches of the argument between Folrolf and Honey Winstalk—he deliberately clattered pans in the kitchen so as not to hear much of it—but from the bits that he heard, it sounded as if Honey were taunting Folrolf and claiming that he couldn’t do half of the work that women did.
Apparently Folrolf had not been able to rebuff Honey’s claim to his total satisfaction, for when he charged into the house a few minutes after, he was muttering darkly and had a face like a storm about to break. But aside from being pensively quiet at dinner, he did not mention anything of it to Titus.
Titus had quite forgotten about the argument—Folrolf had so many of them it was easy to lose track—until the next morning. It was the last day of the week, and as was their custom they had risen early and retreated into the library for some light reading before the morning meal. Titus had just begun to rouse himself out of the depths of his favorite armchair to make breakfast when Folrolf cast his book down on a side table and leapt out of his chair. “Wait a minute, Titus. I’ll do that.”
“You?” Titus blurted in disbelief. “Do . . . what?”
“Make breakfast, of course.”
“But, Folrolf!” Titus protested.
Folrolf glared at him. “Titus Benjamin! How many times have I told you I cannot countenance stammering; no more buts! It’s about time you listen to your elders and do as I say.”
Titus subsided without another murmur into his armchair, perching as gingerly in it as if it were full of gunpowder as he watched Folrolf march indignantly from the room. Titus stared at his book without seeing the words, his ears ringing with the marked silence from the kitchen. Titus finally gave up and set aside his book. Feeling distinctly uneasy, he went to the kitchen door to find Folrolf standing stock still in the center of the room. Folrolf swung around and cleared his throat.
“I believe . . . I shall collect apples first.”
“Apples.” Titus repeated.
“Yes. For a pie.”
“No! Of course not, don’t be foolish. For something savory in the afternoon, or maybe for tea. Perhaps I shall even pick some pears too. For tarts. After which, I shall make a hearty breakfast for you. It won’t harm you to eat it later. Give you time to work up an appetite. Go run about in the garden or something.” And Folrolf caught up a basket and tromped outside into the small orchard behind the cottage.
He was back a moment later—having forgotten the ladder—and dragging it out the door with a ferocious clatter began struggling with it on the lawn like a soldier in pitched combat.
Titus set some tea onto boil and watched from the window.
Folrolf had the ladder propped against a tree in a few moments and, hitching his robes into his belt, clambered up it. For a few seconds, everything progressed nicely and nothing eventful happened until Folrolf reached for a particularly glossy apple just out of reach and lost his balance.
He began waving his arms in one violent flurry in a massive effort to keep his balance with a surge of flapping that sounded like a group of herons taking wing. Despite all his efforts, he tumbled over backwards behind a hedge, grabbing the ladder as he fell and bringing it down on top of him with a mighty crash.
For a moment all that could be seen were two black boots kicking dazedly and rather vaguely in the air and a hat perched at a jaunty angle on a rosemary bush. Folrolf’s head finally emerged from the foliage, with his robes over his face. He yanked the robes away, revealing a very red face and a beard full of leaves.
Folrolf leapt to his feet with a savagery that nearly finished the bush he had already mangled, seized the ladder in both hands, and threw it across the garden hedge with a mighty heave no human could imitate. Titus stopped sharpening the bread knife and watched with his mouth open as the ladder sailed through the air like the projectile from an army’s ballista. It landed with an earth-splitting crash on top of Honey’s roof, propped at a drunken tilt against the chimney.
Folrolf’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at his aim, then he smiled with some satisfaction, rescued his hat from the rosemary bush and screwed it firmly down on his head.
He was distracted from his momentary victory by a several loud caws in the garden.
“What’s this?” he exploded with a roar of outrage as he swung about to look.
Crows were bobbing about the gleaming stalks of corn, pecking at the kernels, and crowing on a decidedly mocking note.
“Out!” Folrolf screamed. He snatched up two apples and a pear from the basket and sent them flying at the birds. One crow struck on the beak, another on the foot, and the third on the tail. They screeched in protest and shot into the air with an eruption of feathers, but they merely fluttered a few feet away, cawing angrily at Folrolf.
“How do you like that?” Folrolf yelled. He sent another barrage their way with dazzling success, and two escaped to the air, while the braver ones remained in the garden or took up a sulking vigil on Honey Winstalk’s roof.
“You’re not getting away that easy!” Folrolf bellowed. He upended the basket of fruit he had just picked and darted into the garden, trampling a few unfortunate tomatoes under foot as he rushed towards a dizzy crow that had suffered a pear to the head and trapped it under his basket.
“Now I’ve got you, you thieving beggar!” Folrolf roared in triumph. He jiggled and shook the basket vigorously in a series of dizzying circles until he was red with exertion. “And now I shall tromp all over you for good measure, bird!”
Fortunately for the crow, Folrolf lost his footing and as his hold loosened on the basket. As the basket tipped, the dizzy crow made good his escape.
“Parasites!” Folrolf yelled, shaking a fist after them.
One solitary crow stared at him resentfully from Honey’s rooftop and cawed.
An apple sent him flapping and squawking away.
“And don’t come back!”
After collecting the bruised pears and apples, Folrolf stumped inside. He did not hoe, rake, weed or water the garden because, as he had told Titus and other villagers numerous times before, he did not believe in gardening. He stuck fiercely to his deep conviction that things of the earth should shift for themselves. Instead, Folrolf proceeded to make an apple pie.
Titus had retreated to the parlor and was making a brave attempt at reading. He had tactfully laid out everything Folrolf would need for the pie before he quit the kitchen, and now he watched through the open door as Folrolf tied on an apron that was draped conveniently over a chair and reached for the large mixing bowl Titus had set in the center of the table for Folrolf’s use. Folrolf caught Titus’s eye and beamed at him.
“You see? I can find everything I need perfectly!”
Folrolf spent some time considering the immense barrel of flour in the corner. Titus realized with chagrin that he had forgotten to set out a small cup for measuring. He was about to rise and retrieve it for Folrolf when the Welkin set the mixing bowl on the floor, seized the barrel and tipped it, pouring what looked like half a barrelful into the bowl with a smile of satisfaction. Flour cascaded in a powdery stream into the bowl, then Folrolf’s hands slipped on the barrel and he poured half a pound on the floor before he could right the barrel. The smug smile vanished as Folrolf stared at the little white mountain at his feet. Setting the barrel down and muttering darkly to himself, he stomped to the closet and out of Titus’s line of sight.
Titus skimmed over another chapter, cocking an ear at the frequent crashes and noting the growing vehemence of the mutterings coming from the kitchen. Folrolf stormed into view again, carrying the broom and tray and utterly unaware that his apron had come untied and was now trailing behind him, clinging in his robes like a cotton spider web. Folrolf slammed the broom tray down on the floor and swept the pile of flour a trifle too vigorously into it, causing a cloud to fly up his nose, resulting in several violent sneezes. He took the tray to the window, pushed it open, deposited the flour into the rose bushes, and slammed the window closed again with a tinkle of broken glass. Folrolf took several deep breaths, bent, swept up the glass from the broken window and tipped it out after the flour.
Folrolf tromped back to the table, blowing his nose loudly on a handkerchief, and finally, inevitably, tripped on the apron strings wrapped around his boots.
He staggered about thunderously, bellowing like a mad bull and then he stepped in the bowl of flour and tipped it over onto the floor. After a considerable amount of thrashing, Folrolf freed himself of the apron, rushed to the window, sent the offending apron after the broken glass.
Titus whipped his head back to his book as Folrolf glanced furtively in his direction. When Titus glanced towards the kitchen again, Folrolf was hastily scooping the flour off the floor and into the bowl with his cupped hands.
Titus considered asking Folrolf if he could help but when he dared to poke his head into the kitchen five minutes later, one look at Folrolf’s face encouraged him to keep his tongue in check and his head on his shoulders. He went up to his room to check on the dragon egg, ensuring that it was warm and comfy in its makeshift nest. The egg hadn’t twitched for days. He wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not.
When he returned downstairs, Folrolf was smashing his mangled and limp dough into a pie pan and crimping the edges. Titus took up his previous position in the parlor and picked up his reading again, making a show of turning the pages.
Flushed with success, Folrolf turned his attention to the bruised apples, chopped them core and all and tossed them into the pan. Garnishing them with a veritable hailstorm of cinnamon and sugar until the apples were covered in a blanket of dirty snow, Folrolf stirring them vigorously with a spoon, causing several apple slices to tumble to the ground. Folrolf dropped to his knees with a painful crack and a bellow of anguish then, grimacing, crawled under the table to retrieve the slices, banging his head on the edge as he clambered to his feet.
“PESTILENCE!” Folrolf roared, glaring fiercely and stirring all the harder with his spoon before he slammed the pan down on the counter and turned his attention to what remained of his misshapen dough, struggling with the lattice that would form the pies upper crust. He sliced mercilessly and brutally at it with the knife, tossing stripes aside in a growing pile that—Titus could not help but notice—stuck firmly together. Folrolf finished slicing the last strip, frowned at the pan, stared a long moment and bellowed: “Titus!”
Titus snatched up his book just as Folrolf came tearing into the parlor, catching Titus by the shirt front and heaving him out of his chair. “Titus! Why are the apples brown? Your apples never turn brown like that!”
Titus swallowed against his rapidly tightening collar. “That’s because you forgot the lemon juice, Folrolf.”
“This is an apple pie not a lemon pie, you little button head!” Folrolf roared, releasing Titus and storming back into the kitchen. “Lemon juice, ha!”
Folrolf swept back into the kitchen and struggled in vain to pull the strips apart. Titus watched in fascination as Folrolf’s face changed colors rapidly from cherry, to scarlet, to maroon.
“BLAST IT!” Folrolf grabbed the clump of dough, smashed it flat with his fist, slapped it over the pie, crimped the edges with blurring speed and threw the pan into the oven with a thunderous bang. He went through the entire process again, grumbling like a pot about to boil over, and left the second pie on the table to be baked later.
Distracted by the pies, Folrolf produced a harried breakfast of burned oatmeal and toast, undercooked bacon, unsalted biscuits, and two poached eggs that refused to be cracked, no matter how hard Titus whacked at them.
“I don’t understand it,” Folrolf muttered thumping an egg disconsolately with his spoon. “It must have been an ill chicken that produced this egg. It’s as solid as a rock.”
Titus coughed to get Folrolf’s attention and pointed wordlessly to the plume of smoke coming from the oven. Folrolf flew out of his chair, but the pie was beyond saving.
A black-faced Folrolf glared at Titus. “Why didn’t you say something sooner, you young fool? The house could have burned down around our ears!” He dropped the burned pie on the table and stormed out of the room.
Folrolf had apparently had enough with baking for the time being, and he turned his attention next to the ancient and fading hall rug. Making a show of cleaning up the kitchen, Titus managed to catch glimpses of Folrolf’s activates.
Folrolf gathered up the carpet in his long spider arms and staggered outside, tossed it over the laundry line before tromping back inside to find the rug beater.
It was some time before he returned outside—apparently he couldn’t find the rug beater and was loath to ask Titus. When he did, he grabbed the rug in one hand, pulled it taut and gave the rug a deafening thump with the beater. The rug promptly tore in half, one end falling to the ground and the other fluttering pathetically on the line as Folrolf stared in stupefaction from one piece to another. He glanced about quickly, gathered both pieces in his arms and charged inside.
Titus poked his head around the corner of the parlor doorway to watch Folrolf laid the two separate pieces gently on the floor, pressing them together and looking at them hopefully. He licked his finger and pressed the broken threads down in place, nodding in satisfaction as he went to collect soap and a bucket to clean the windows.
Folrolf seemed to have decided to clean the attic windows first, and after hunting about for a long rope, he clumped upstairs to find another ladder. As he was opening the little door to the attic, his boot broke through a stair and sent him plunging to his knees, scrabbling for a handhold in the enveloping sea of robes. After extricating himself, he gave the stair an ill tempered kick, stubbing his toe and dislodging several birds nests from a rafter above which lodged momentarily down his back. He was looking quite hot and irritable when he shook the door handle and realized the attic door was locked and had been for more then five months.
Folrolf kicked the door several times. “Who locks this confounded door in the first place?” He roared, galloping downstairs and turning his library desk upside down in search of a key. He found it and charged up the stairs again, catching his foot in the broken step a second time, which caused him to pitch forward and bang his nose against the door.
In the parlor, an almost musical series of thudding and clattering could be heard by Titus, punctuated by booming ejaculations whose phrasings were muffled, although the meanings were fully evident. Then there was a crash, a howl of rage and pain, and something was being half dragged, half kicked down the stairs, with a din that sounded like the clattering of a thousand horses on cobblestones and the clanking mail of their mounted knights. Titus contrived not to look up as Folrolf finally wrestled the ladder through the door and outside. He got a basket and went outside to pick cucumbers for tea as an excuse to watch what happened next.
Folrolf hauled the ladder towards the south side of the house and propped it against the roof, hitching his robes up to his knees and clambering up the ladder with a pail of sudsy water. Perched precariously on top of the roof, Folrolf tied a rope to the pail’s handle and lowered it over the edge of the gutter until it was on level with one of the four attic windows. Grunting in satisfaction, he tied the other end to the chimney. He anchored his second piece of rope to the chimney as well and tied the other end to his boot. He lowered himself over the gutter until he was staring into the attic window. Humming to himself, he planted his boots against the side of the house, hanging onto the rope with one hand, while he dipped his cleaning rag into the pail beside him with the other.
Titus was distracted for just a moment by a weed, but a yell and a terrific noise of something banging against the side of the house and landing in the rose bushes caused him to leap to his feet.
He raced towards the side of the house, just as Folrolf leaped out of the bushes like a flea, trailing several vines behind him.
Judging from his spry—albeit agitated—movements, it was clear Folrolf was all right, and Titus knew better than to ask him. He thought now might be the time to have mercy and help Folrolf cobble something together in the kitchen and bring the house back to order.
“Luncheon?” He suggested.
“Get your own blasted lunch!” Folrolf snarled as he stalked into the house.
Offended, Titus stomped into the parlor and resumed his reading, waiting until Folrolf had disappeared into the library with a cleaning rag before he got his own lunch; though he found an excuse to walk down the hall several times, to sneak glances into the library.
Folrolf surveyed the rows of bookcases and volumes all frosted in a thick layer of dust.
Folrolf placed the rag on the spines of the books to his left and ran the entire length of the room, dragging it across the binding. He twirled at the far end then ran back again, dragging his rag across the shelf. He did this hastily for each bookcase and left the dust on top of the shelves and behind the books alone. He studied his desk thoughtfully and gave it one swift swipe, which caused a lamp to fall over.
Muttering furiously and steadily under his breath, he scooped the glass up with the ends of his robes and pushed it into the coal scuttle before rushing out of the room and closing the door behind him.
He had just gathered another soapy bucket of water and rags to scour the house floors when he spotted the pile of mending waiting in the parlor.
He dropped his bucket and rags in the hall, causing some of the water to slosh onto the floor, and clomped into the parlor where he began to pull cushions and blankets off chairs, delving his hands into the black recesses of the gap between the seat and the arm, though his search only turned up the sticky remnants of a piece of bread and what must have once been honey.
Folrolf shook his hand vigorously to rid himself of the mess and tossed it out the window.
“Where are those blasted darning needles?” He roared, flinging himself into a chair and finding the pointed implements he sought with painful rapidity.
After searching the cushions for any more sharp objects, Folrolf settled himself gingerly into a chair with the darning needles and a moth eaten sock.
Despite never having done it before—at least, to Titus’s knowledge—Folrolf managed a lumpy knot where a hole had once been. He appeared to be growing calmer with this sudden victory when, without warning, he poked a bony finger through the hole. He glared at the sock irritably. “Furies!”
He exploded from his chair and went storming into the hall, tripping over the bucket he had left there earlier and upsetting more water.
Folrolf snatched up the bucket and moping accouterments and dragged the entire lot into the kitchen and closed the door, so Titus could not see what happened next. It seemed Folrolf had made some success though, for when he reappeared some time later, he was beaming, and a glimpse of the kitchen behind him revealed sparkling floors.
“I don’t know why women always complain of house work,” Folrolf said pleasantly to Titus. “I find it most invigorating.”
Titus noticed the kitchen looked strangely bare. “Folrolf . . . where are all the chairs? And the table?”
Folrolf waved a hand vaguely. “I moved them outside so I could scour the floor. Move them back in won’t you?” He strode past Titus into the main hall, whistling cheerfully. He flung open the front door, then set his back against a hall table, and shoved it out the door and onto the lawn with the driving force of a plough horse.
“Folrolf!” Titus spluttered.
Folrolf surged inside a moment later, ruddy and virtuous. “Now, Titus. I know what you’re going to say. I shouldn’t be troubling myself over such trifles. Normally, you would be right. But don’t worry; this doesn’t bother me a bit. I tell you I’m enjoying these little diversions. Now just you wait, I’ll have this done in no time and then we shall have tea.”
He picked up a corner of the hall rug and pulled energetically upwards . . . leaving half of carpet on the floor. He flushed crimson. He quickly gathered up both pieces of the carpet, turning his back so that Titus couldn’t see, and threw them hastily outside after the hallway table. He avoided Titus’s look as he went to the kitchen for more water.
Titus had barely finished wrestling the tables and chairs back into the kitchen again when Folrolf sailed into the kitchen.
“I’ve just finished the hall,” he said comfortably. “Oh by the way, Titus. You can move the chairs and table outside again. I just decided that I shall wax the floors, since they’re clean.” And he disappeared into the broom closet to find the wax.
Titus gritted his teeth and put his shoulder to a hutch he had just wrangled into position.
Folrolf method of waxing was to wrap rags around his immense boots and skate back and forth across the hall until it glistened, a method so efficient; Titus had to rush through luncheon to keep up with moving the furniture in and out of the house. He was beginning to have a sore spot between his shoulders.
Sliding into the kitchen and waving cheerily at Titus, who had just finished shifting the table back into place, Folrolf began swirling about the kitchen, narrowly evading running into the china hutch.
“I used to be quite an ice skater,” Folrolf reflected as he hurtled past Titus, “when I was a young sprout.” He pushed Titus aside with an arm and began rubbing the spot where he had been standing with tremendous care, as if he thought Titus was tracking mud.
Titus retired to the parlor, still chewing the sandwich he had been forced to keep cramming into his pocket, and feeling decidedly sore and out of sorts.
Folrolf was still gliding and twirling elegantly about the room when Emma Copplestone’s face appeared at the open kitchen door. Emma was a fat good-natured widow, with a face like a scrubbed and freckled potato and her round little eyes were the size of turnip bulbs as she stared at Folrolf, who continued obliviously to sweep about the room.
“Goodness, Mr. Folrolf, sir!” She gasped at last. “I never knew you could dance so fine as that!”
Folrolf whirled about in surprise, then flung his arms wide. “Ah! Mistress Copplestone!” He bowed so flamboyantly and with such an audacious raise of the eyebrows, that Emma—who had been widowed for some time—flushed scarlet up to the roots of her curly white hair. “Would you do me the honor,” and Folrolf bowed again, admirably, “of a dance?”
“Well, mercy!” Emma said finally when she had got her breath back—decidedly pleased and a little alarmed too. Titus guessed that it had been years since she had been asked to dance; probably no one had felt up to lifting her well padded person. Emma pulled her cap firmly down over her ears and had barely set her basket down when Folrolf flung open the bottom half of the door, seized her hand, and dragged her into the room, twirling her about so fast she nearly slipped.
They made an unusual looking couple, Folrolf was so tall he had to bend nearly double to reach her and Emma was so short she could barely look up at him and seemed to spend most of the dance bouncing off the front of him and trying desperately to hold onto her cap, as her round eyes grew even larger.
Still, it was a strangely elegant dance, and it was certainly lively. Emma, who was not gifted with natural grace, was still managing rather well as they careened about the room, thanks to the slipperiness of the waxed floor and the prowess of Folrolf, who heaved her about the room with hearty ease. Titus had never in his life seen Folrolf deliberately set out to charm a lady before and it was well worth the watching. His guardian was feeling expansive and conversed warmly through the entire dance and, judging from the look on Emma’s face, his conversation was as sparkling and witty as a poet’s. Titus couldn’t make out much of what they were saying, since they were crashing about the room like a herd of collywompuses. Folrolf even extracted one high pitched giggle from an astounded Emma, whose expression was gradually changing from alarm to intense enjoyment.
By the time the dance was over, Folrolf had gained himself a conquest, judging from Emma’s dazed mumblings. She handed him the basket of fresh bread she had brought for Titus, blushed numerous times and gave one final titter before she scurried out the door.
Folrolf swept one last elaborate bow at her departure and turned slowly, his fingers hooked in his belt, bouncing a little on his heels as he meet Titus’s open mouthed stare. He took one look at Titus’s face and his satisfaction was evidently complete.
“You’ve dropped your book, Titus,” Folrolf said serenely, as he skated past Titus and into the library with the bucket of soapy water.
Titus looked down and discovered he had not only dropped his book, but had left his chair in the parlor and was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, and had been for some time.
Folrolf’s sweet temper did not last long. It seemed he was having some trouble with moving the furniture, judging from muffled crashes and shouts of pain. Titus guessed that the occasionally howls of anguish and feverish murmurings that sounded like a mother soothing her child, was Folrolf accidentally upsetting water on his precious books and papers.
Titus was listening to all this from the kitchen, when Diggle McCunn walked through the open door and tipped his hat to Titus.
“H’llo,” he said, making himself comfortable in a chair and giving a great wheeze on his pipe. “Having a cup of tea, are you? I wouldn’t mind having one myself.”
Titus poured him a cup without saying anything, distracted by the loud crashing in the library.
Diggle took the saucer and cup from him and gave him a friendly nod. “Thank ye.” He settled himself more comfortably in his chair. “I saw you and your guardian had moved all your furniture outside of the house and the missus asked me to ask you if you were getting it off of your hands.”
“Well actually—” Titus began, hoping to recruit Diggle’s help in moving a particularly heavy chest of drawers back inside when Folrolf suddenly barreled into the room.
“Titus! How do you get ink out of a carpet?” He demanded.
Diggle waved at him cheerily, “Hoi Folrolf. How’do. I hear you’re quite the charmer with the ladies! First Honey and now Emma!” He gave a low whistle.
Folrolf whirled on him with a ferocious look. His gaze narrowed on Diggle’s pipe, then he snatched it out of the astounded man’s mouth shook it violently in his face. “Don’t you dare smoke in here! I just finished scrubbing every inch of this house and unless you’d like your own face scoured you won’t let one puff of smoke anywhere near this place!”
Folrolf’s voice was loud enough for Diggle to actually hear and understand every word. His eyes had widened to the size of ripe tomatoes. “Cleaned?” he squeaked. “By you?”
Folrolf glared at him savagely. “Yes, me!” he growled. “And just what is that matter with that? I can clean just as well as anyone!”
“I—I’m—sure you can!” Diggle dropped his tea cup on the table and raced out the door—undoubtedly to tell his wife everything.
Folrolf grabbed a towel and sopped up the spilled tea. “Barbarian!” he muttered, slinging the soiled towel out the window.
Tea was disheartening. The delicate bite sized sandwiches that Titus always prepared were nowhere to be seen. They had been replaced with gigantic slabs of bread and thick slices of unpeeled, liberally salted cucumber. The gingerbread had apparently been found in the pantry, for it was stale and the tea was scorched beyond drinking. Folrolf’s face relaxed only partially when he presented the dishes of strawberries floating in cream. Titus couldn’t help noticing they had not had the pips taken out of them or their stems removed, but he said nothing.
Unfortunately for Folrolf, in his hurry, he had salted the berries instead of sweetened them, and the cream had turned sour. That was the only thing on the table that wasn’t Folrolf’s fault, but it was unfortunate that it would happen on the day he was making tea.
Titus stirred his tea, even though there was nothing in it to stir and Folrolf sat very still beside him in stony silence as he surveyed the table with a displeased eye. Folrolf rose stiffly and walked out of the room, leaving Titus to pitch the failed meal out the window.
Folrolf reappeared a moment later to push the second apple pie in the stove and left again to return once more to the broom closet.
He started a fire in the stone fireplace on the lawn and rolled the giant metal washtub out to prop it on top of the fireplace. The washtub crouched over the fire on its four iron legs. He built a fire underneath it and made several trips to the kitchen pump to fill the tub with water, shaving soap into it and stirring it vigorously. Then he retrieved a second wash tub and filled it with cold water. Folrolf kept dipping his finger into the water of the first tub to test it and became impatient when the water did not boil. Folrolf stumped into the house and hauled the dirty clothes that had been cluttering up a basket in the kitchen pantry onto the lawn. He began dropping them into the warm water, stirring them slowly with the long wooden paddle. When the clothes had soaked to his satisfaction, Folrolf wrung them out over the grass, dropped them into the second tub to rinse, wrung them out again and hung them over the line. Observing him from the window while he munched on a piece of gingerbread he had found squirreled away in a tin, Titus had to admit that Folrolf was following the right steps—even if he wasn’t using boiling water.
Folrolf was so absorbed in what he was doing he did not notice the Firestrike’s family wolfhound, Gertheart, ambling up behind him.
Gertheart sat bolt upright near the rose hedge, watching intently as Folrolf wrung a shirt out over the grass. His ears cocked as Folrolf shook it out and his back end began to rise slowly off the ground. Folrolf flung the shirt over the line and it flapped violently in a gust of wind. Gertheart’s entire concentration was focused on that shirt; his muscles were tensed and ready. Titus leaned forward and cleaned the window pane with his sleeve to get a better view. As Folrolf turned his back to the line, Gertheart lunged, catching the shirt in his teeth and ripped it off the line.
Folrolf whirled. “You bounder!” He bellowed. “I’ll teach you to play with my clean washing!” He jerked his paddle out of the washtub and swung it at Gertheart. The pair of trousers that had been wrapped about it was flung clear and sent sailing into Honey’s lawn. Gertheart danced easily out of the way of Folrolf’s paddle. He set the shirt down long enough to bark, friendly-wise, then caught the shirt up again in his teeth, wagging his tail eagerly.
“You infernal cur! I’ll teach you to wag your tail at me!” And Folrolf swung repeatedly at him, in a dizzying and violent attack.
Gertheart’s barking became agitated as Folrolf backed him into a corner against the side of the house. Folrolf bashed the wall in several places as Gertheart scuttled back and forth just out of reach of Folrolf’s weapon. Titus was just racing to the door to intervene when Gertheart made a bolt for freedom. Folrolf swung and missed but stepped on Gertheart’s paw as he tripped on a hoe and staggered to keep his balance.
Gertheart yelped and—being rather stupid—turned and ran directly towards Folrolf instead of escaping the garden when he had the chance.
Folrolf was bowled out of the wolfhound’s way, shouting at the top of his voice. Gertheart crashed into one of the washtubs and sent the entire thing tipping over. The rinsing water gushed over the tub’s rim, surging into the garden and drowning several tomatoes stalks. Balled up socks oozed across the grass like flotsam in its wake. Folrolf galloped over the clean clothing, roaring vengeance and leaving muddy footprints all over the washing as he swung at Gertheart again.
Gertheart sprang away from him and sailed magnificently, beautifully—a wild brindled hound against brilliant grass and sky—into the tub of hot water.
A sheet of water surged upwards and landed in a resounded slap in Folrolf’s astonished face, drenching him instantly. Folrolf let out a howl of pain as the hot water hit him—though luckily, the water was not really boiling, though it was obviously still hot enough to hurt pretty badly. Gertheart, who had never liked getting wet, added his own frenzied baying to Folrolf’. Gertheart had no sooner cascaded into the tub before he was hurdling out of it again in a wild leap that sent him directly into Folrolf.
They went over together in a confused jumble of wet flapping robes and splayed paws, and then Gertheart was rushing, wild eyed, around the house and disappearing into Honey’s yard.
Folrolf lunged to his feet and stormed out of the garden, leaving the kettle on its side and clothing draped about the lawn like peculiar festoons.
Titus got down on his knees and made a good show of sorting Christmas cutlery in the hutch’s bottom drawer, peeking at Folrolf out of the corner of his eye as his guardian swept into the kitchen. He checked himself in mid-stride and stalked over to the oven, throwing the door open and bending down to look inside. The kitchen grew curiously quiet as Folrolf peered into the oven, trying to locate his apple pie. Titus glanced over his shoulder.
A great deal of it seemed to be on the top and sides of the oven. Dough hung down from the top of the oven like stalactites and what was left of the crust was a mere fringe of black around the dish. The filling was a depressing lump of shriveled apples, floating in evilly bubbling juices.
Folrolf slid the pie out of the oven and held it a moment, staring at it.
He grunted, dropped the pie on the ground, slammed the oven door shut and flew past Titus down the hall and into his study.
Folrolf locked his door and did not come out for the rest of the day. The pie had landed perfectly intact and in its pan without anymore damage and Titus delivered it to Alban Alicott to use as swill for his prize piglets.
Nothing was said of dinner, save that the aggravated sounds emitting from the study seemed to increase and Titus went into the kitchen to have bread and cheese by himself. The evening turned out nicely for him at least, for he discovered Emma’s basket that had been set aside earlier and found a regular feast from the goodhearted woman tucked away inside a napkin.
Titus cooked breakfast the next morning and resumed all of the household duties.
Nothing more was said of Folrolf’s attempt at housekeeping.
OKAY, WHEW. I posted it. I nearly lost my nerve to post chapter two. *nervous smile*
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